In a high-end battle, a commanding officer may have to fight his or her ship in a communications-denied environment. If battle damage is taken, there will be no time to go to port or call for a technical assist; the sailors on board must be able to repair and continue to fight the ship. Chief petty officers are key to the Navy’s ability to do this.
Chiefs are the top technical authority within a rating on board a ship. The Navy must trust its chiefs to train their sailors to maintain and repair their equipment, and then allow them every opportunity to work on and repair it.
In the 1990s, following the Cold War, most of the afloat destroyer and submarine tenders that provided intermediate (I-level) maintenance support for deployed ships and submarines were decommissioned. At the same time, many of the shore intermediate maintenance activities (SIMAs) were consolidated or closed, substantially divesting fleet concentration areas of I-level repair capabilities.
By 2003, the Navy had reduced or consolidated training and assessment programs as it moved from developing sailors as operators and maintainers to focusing on equipment oper--ation and watchstanding. Compounding this, over the past two decades sailor training has not focused enough on organizational (O-level) and I-level maintenance.
While there were some immediate cost savings, these changes had unintended consequences, including a significant loss in fleet maintenance skill and self-sufficiency, ship material readiness, and battle-damage repair capability. Reduced manning on ships and at shore support facilities placed unmanageable workloads on smaller, less trained crews; as a result, ships were not maintained to required standards.
With the decommissioning of the SIMAs and all but two submarine tenders, there no longer were standard I-level process control procedures where sailors used the same equipment and quality assurance standards they would use at sea. Most equipment that was standard at the SIMAs and on the tenders was sent to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office. A recent review of shipboard repair equipment on big-deck amphibious ships and aircraft carriers found that some of the original outfitted machine shop and repair equipment was removed or sat unused in lay-up.
I-level Maintenance and Training
To reverse this loss of maintenance and repair capability/proficiency, the Navy has taken action on several lines of effort. First, Commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center (CNRMC), and the regional maintenance centers (RMCs), including naval shipyard intermediate maintenance activities, are collaborating on three I-level “value streams”:
• Maintenance competency development
• Material readiness support
• Shop production
Based on an analysis of existing programs and inspection reports, it became clear the Navy had significant challenges with maintenance knowledge and experience, from the shipboard planned maintenance system (PMS) to routine O-level work normally accomplished by ship’s force. The Navy needed a solution that provided not only short-term successes, but also long-term quantifiable successes to ensure continued fiscal support of I-level maintenance and training programs. As a result, in October 2010, CNRMC, with support from the surface type commanders and fleet maintenance officers, began the task of righting I-level maintenance using the Navy Afloat Maintenance Training Strategy (NAMTS) program and hands-on production experience.
A primary goal was to restore a path to technical competence for shipboard sailors. As sailors learn maintenance competencies through hands-on, real-world, I-level shop production (tracked by NAMTS), ship material readiness increases. Sailors who complete NAMTS qualifications return to sea with increased skills and confidence to support maintenance actions. An analysis of hull, mechanical, and electrical–rated sailors taking advancement exams showed that those who were involved in or had graduated from a NAMTS program scored higher than their peers who lacked RMC/shipyard-provided hands-on training.
Developing maintenance competency hinges on the NAMTS program, as it provides graduates with Navy enlisted classification codes to aid in the distribution of maintenance warriors to sea. Sailors stationed at RMCs and naval shipyards are provided meaningful shore duty in fleet concentration areas and continue their professional education by expanding their maintenance competencies as they move from apprentice to journeyman and ultimately to master craftsman.
Following a manpower analysis, the Navy determined 1,587 sailors needed to be assigned to the RMCs to help restore I-level maintenance capability. Southeast Regional Maintenance Center was reestablished in Mayport, Florida, and Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center, Naples, Italy, was stood up, with detachments in Bahrain and Rota, Spain. Sailors also have been assigned to naval shipyards in Norfolk, Virginia; Puget Sound, Washington; and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to provide more opportunities to perform I-level maintenance work.
In 2015, CNRMC also rolled out afloat NAMTS training to carriers and big-deck amphibious ships—which have intermediate maintenance activity capabilities in their own right—to provide them access to NAMTS. The plan is to capitalize on the production work these ships perform to train their sailors. As these sailors come from sea duty to an RMC, their opportunity to become journeymen and master craftsmen is expedited because they are in a continual maintenance environment where they can increase their in-rate training and experience, get training on unique systems, and continue stocking their maintenance competency toolbox.
CNRMC and the NAMTS maintenance support team also are working to provide NAMTS training to sailors assigned to precommissioning detachments/units (PCD/PCUs). Realizing there is some available time at PCD/PCUs for training, the support team is working to maximize competency development opportunities. This training usually does not require temporary duty funds because the detachments are located in fleet concentration areas and sailors are trained at the local RMC.
Because NAMTS’s 340-plus unique maintenance competencies can be earned relatively quickly (two to ten days each), PCD/PCU sailors can earn their required Navy enlisted classification codes and several other competencies while awaiting formal school start dates or orders. All competencies are recorded in the sailor’s electronic training jacket and can be built on by training at any RMC or afloat NAMTS program.
With many ships having a limited number of RMC-served sailors, there is not yet a critical mass of proficient maintainers afloat to move the ships’ material readiness needle, but CNRMC is working with enlisted distribution managers to man ships with the required NAMTS Navy enlisted classification codes and has been monitoring their material readiness, self-assessment ability, and organic repair performance.
Second, the Navy has reintroduced the strike force intermediate maintenance activities structure to provide strike groups organic repair capabilities across the force. This capability is measured in tools and machinery installed on board, sailors qualified to operate the machinery, and materials and support required to use the equipment. A ship’s organic repair assist team now assesses all the ships in a strike force six months prior to deployment; determines what equipment needs to be repaired, installed, or removed; identifies shortfalls in materials and sailor training; and provides a report to the commanding officers of the ships and the strike group commander. In addition, the team assists in installing and repairing equipment and in training sailors to operate it. Building and maintaining this organic repair capability will support the toughness and self-sufficiency described in the Chief of Naval Operations’ “Design for Maritime Superiority.”
RMC Material Readiness Support
Third, CNRMC is increasing its fleet support through maintenance assist teams (MATs), small-crewed hybrid MATs, self-help opportunities, and metrology and calibration/shipboard instrumentation and systems calibration.
MATs send 10 to 15 RMC sailors and civilian subject-matter experts, shop-to-ship, to work side by side with ship’s force performing PMS and corrective maintenance on targeted high-failure equipment. The purpose of MATs is to train sailors and provide a comprehensive material assessment and maintenance review, with a goal of increasing the readiness of the targeted systems. Through the use of NAMTS and MATs, unit self-sufficiency is promulgated to ship’s force by over-the-shoulder instruction and hands-on learning while performing the required preventive and corrective maintenance and documentation to support sustained operations.
Initially, the MAT program started with valve MAT, focusing on main and secondary drain systems; deck MAT, focusing on boat davits, J-Bar davits, lifelines, and topside ladders; and auxiliaries MAT, focusing on air conditioning and refrigeration, hydraulic systems, and anchor windlass and steering systems. Following the success of these teams, the program expanded to include electrical, gun, gas turbine, rigid-hulled inflatable boat, watertight door, and laundry and galley. Metrics continue to show that ships that take advantage of MATs within six months of Board of Inspection and Survey reviews are able to exceed their material readiness requirements.
MAT use has seen a slight downward trend over the past two years and has fallen to below CNRMC’s expected number of visit requests because of a lack of awareness by stakeholders. To address this, CNRMC is working to establish a “push vs. pull” schedule. RMCs are assisting ships in scheduling teams and are evaluating syncing MATs to total ship readiness assessment events. The goal is to make the full set of MATs available to each ship during its optimized fleet response plan cycle.
CNRMC also is working with the Mid-Atlantic RMC to develop hybrid MATs. With small-crew ships, the standard MAT execution is a challenge, so CNRMC developed a hybrid model that will contain RMC sailor and civilian team members supporting several different MATs simultaneously. These hybrid teams can be tailored to specific ship classes based on equipment and systems.
Hybrid MATs are of particular interest for Fifth Fleet small-crew ships and Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center Bahrain, which recently stood up I-level capabilities.
During the past year, CNRMC and the NAMTS industrial plant equipment team have installed and tested numerous pieces of I-level support equipment in their temporary warehouse facility. This facility is supporting the mine countermeasures/patrol coastal ships and Navy Expeditionary Combat Command boats until a new facility can be built. The new building is scheduled for completion in fiscal year 2019 and will support I-level production and provide limited support to deployed littoral combat ships.
By restoring hands-on training through I-level MAT visits and a robust NAMTS program, CNRMC is improving ship material readiness. The Navy must continue to man and equip its RMCs, shipyards, and ships’ organic repair capability. More manning already is requested in Program Objective Memorandum 2020, and it is critical to the future self-sufficiency of the fleet that these sites are funded and manned. Once these NAMTS warriors are trained and returned to sea duty, they will need receptive chains of command to support them by providing the tools, equipment, and materials to work on their equipment. Using distance support and on-board technical experts, ships can repair their equipment much faster.
Today’s ships and submarines must be more resilient and capable of self-repair. Let’s trust the chiefs to train their sailors and get them working on their gear!
Master Chief Kelley is the command master chief of Navy Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk, VA. He previously served as command master chief of a guided-missile destroyer, cruiser, and frigate, a naval shipyard, and a type commander staff.